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Medina, A., & Gordon, L. (2014).

Service learning, phonemic perception, and learner

motivation: A quantitative study. Foreign Language Annals, 47, 357-371. doi:
Service learning, a benecial form of experiential education that combines meaningful
community service with reection and course instruction, has increased in popularity over the
years. While service learning enjoys broad support and has been used as an instructional tool in
many academic elds (e.g., political science, anthropology, sociology, and public relations),
relatively little is known about the impact of service learning in foreign language instruction. It is
worth understanding the potential benefits of service learning to second language learners.
Purpose of the Study
The authors stated the goal of this study was to investigate if adding a servicelearning
component in the form of a voluntary language exchange program with written reection to a
Spanish phonetics class would have an impact on learners phonemic perception in Spanish and
motivation to learn Spanish as a second language (L2).
Research Questions
The authors raised two specific research questions: To what extent does participation in a
servicelearning language exchange program impact learners phonemic perception in L2? To
what extent does participation in a servicelearning language exchange program improve
learners motivation to learn L2?
Theoretical Base
Although some studies examining experiential learning in the eld of second language
acquisition (SLA) have found anecdotal evidence in favor of this pedagogical tool, they did not

address the contribution of service learning statistically. Only a few studies of Spanish language
have sought to incorporate quantitative measures of servicelearning outcomes, and results
indicated a statistically signicant increase in learners motivation and attitudes between pre and
postsurvey; however, a non-service learning control group was not included. Given the lack of
comparison between effects of participation and nonparticipation in service learning on
individual motivation and L2 development, this study was designed to measure the statistical
impact, if any, of a servicelearning language exchange program in a Spanish phonetics course
on participants L2 phonemic perception, and foreign language motivation.
A group of 25 native English-speaking university students in a fth-semester Spanish
phonetics course voluntarily participated in this study, whom were recruited from two sections of
Spanish phonetics that were taught by the same professor, with no difference in textbook,
syllabus, and course content between the two sections during the time of the study. All subjects
had no previous extended (i.e., more than three months) experience abroad, and no statistically
signicant outlier performance on the perception test. Participants chose to participate in service
learning (SL) group or non-service learning (NSL) group. Each group consisted of eight majors
in Spanish, Spanish international trade, or Spanish education. In addition, there were four
Spanish minors in the SL group and ve Spanish minors in the NSL group. SL group consisted of
12 participants; NSL group consisted of 13 participants.
Perception test. In order to examine participants phonemic perceptual sensitivity, a selfpaced computerized perception test was created and the test consisted of 100 Spanish words.

Attitude/motivation test battery. Participants foreign language attitude and motivation

were gauged by completing an attitude/motivation questionnaire in a computer lab. Participants
were given the modied version of Gardner and associates Attitude/Motivation Test Battery,
originally designed for learners of French and published in 1997.
Design and Procedures
In this study, service-learning language exchange program was independent variable;
learners phonemic perception and motivation to learn L2 Spanish were dependent variables.
Service-learning language exchange program. SL participants met with members of
Hispanic community for 60 minutes each week for nine weeks to engage in a Spanish English
language exchange. The SL participants would converse in Spanish for 20 minutes while the
Hispanic members in turn would communicate in English for 20 minutes. The remaining 20
minutes were devoted to L1 production by all participants to increase target language input and
adjust their perceptual system. After the end of each exchange session, SL participants were
instructed to write reections on their pronunciations and any other observations made. Both SL
and NSL participants had phonetics class three days a week for 50 minutes each day, were given
the same class content and homework during the nine weeks.
Perception test. In the fth week of the semester (Session 1), and again in the 14th week
(Session 2), learners completed the perception test in a computer lab. The same perception test
was used for both the pre- and post-assessment. At their computer stations, participants saw a
word written in Spanish presented on a PowerPoint slide and simultaneously heard a recording of
that word. Each audio recording automatically played and repeated itself until learners advanced
to the next screen. This procedure was repeated for all 100 stimulus words, which were presented
in random order. In order to examine the rst research question, three scoring procedures were

analyzed-Judgment (yes/no/unsure), Precise Identication, and Vicinity Identication- using

separate hierarchical multiple regression analyses.
Attitude/motivation test battery. To make the items of Gardner and associates
Attitude/Motivation Test Battery suitable for this study, the items were adapted to t the context
of Spanish learners. The questionnaire consisted of 82 negatively and positively keyed items
targeting ve categories of attitude and motivation. Of these, due to space limitations, only four
categories (i.e., Integrativeness, Motivation, Self-Condence, and Language Anxiety) are
addressed in this article. In Sessions 1 and 2, learners were instructed to respond to each
statement of the Attitude/ Motivation Test Battery on a 7-point Likert scale, from strongly
disagree (1) to strongly agree (7). Negatively oriented responses were rst positively
switched, and then the mean ratings for each category were calculated. An individual hierarchical
multiple regression analysis was performed for each of the four categories.
With the corresponding pretest (Step 1) and with group (Step 2) regressed onto the
applicable posttest scores, the analyses revealed that SL group did not surface as a signicant
predictor of learners phonemic perception. However, with higher means on the posttest than on
the pretest, the descriptive statistics coupled with the regression results showed that all learners
in both SL and NSL groups had better phonemic perception ability after nine weeks of a Spanish
phonetics course than at onset.
Regarding L2 attitude/motivation, after examining the pre-study ratings regressed onto
the post-study ratings, the ndings indicate that learners, despite group, (1) very subtly increased
their Integrativeness; (2) decreased their Motivation, although more so for the SL participants;
(3) increased their Self-Condence, especially for the SL learners; and (4) decreased Anxiety,

more markedly for the SL learners. However, no signicant differences surfaced between the
experimental and the control groups.
There are some limitations to this study. The short duration of language exchange
sessions may not have been sufcient to affect changes in participants perception and
motivation. Only a small portion of the 60-minute conversation session each week of the nineweek program was devoted to receiving L2 input from the native Spanish-speaking exchange
partners. Designing sessions of longer duration may produce different results.
A replication study with a larger participant pool is recommended to more decisively
determine whether group (SL vs. NSL) is a predictor variable of perception performance in the
greater population. The sample size of 12 and 13 students per group was small and made
signicant differences between groups less likely to arise. A larger sample of students may yield
statistically signicant ndings between groups.
Although there was no statistically signicant difference between the experimental and
control groups, learners in both groups experienced a signicant change in L2 perception and
motivation, suggesting that perhaps it was the phonetics course itself rather than service learning
in Spanish that inuenced L2 perception and motivation. To verify this possibility, a future study
might include a group that receives no L2 phonetics instruction at all in the study.
Although not mentioned in the article, it seems nonequivalent control-group design was
used in this study because subjects could choose to participate in SL group or NSL group, instead
of being randomly assigned to groups. Hence, besides aforementioned limitations, threats to the
internal validity of this study might exist. Further improvement is worth exploring.